The fifth seeded Alabama Crimson Tide used a strong performance from freshman guard Trevor Lacey, who scored 7 points in the last 3 minutes of the game, to defeat the upset-minded twelth seeded South Carolina Gamecocks 63-57 in the first round of the SEC Basketball Tournament.
Lacey, who was a perfect 6 of 6 from the free throw line and had the Tide's only 3 pointer of the game, ended the night with a game-high 15 points in only 17 minutes of work. He received offensive help from the Tide's frontcourt, where senior JaMychal Green, an All-SEC second team selection, and freshman Nick Jacobs had 12 and 10 points, respectively. Green also had a team-high 7 rebounds. Sophomore Trevor Releford, who joined Green on the All-SEC second team, and freshman Levi Randolph each scored 9 points from their guard positions. Although he only scored 2 points, junior guard Andrew Steele led the Tide with 3 assists while also pulling down 5 defensive rebounds. The win helped the Tide avenge a 56-54 loss to the Gamecocks in their only regular-season matchup. The importance of the victory was not lost on head coach Anthony Grant.
"I'm very proud of our effort today," Grant said. "It was a great win for us. I felt like at the beginning of the game, our energy and effort was really up there. Our guys did a great job by locking in our defense in order to be successful today."
The loss ends the Gamecocks' season, as they struggled to a 10-21 overall record while going 2-14 during regular season conference play. They were led by guards Damien Leonard and Brenton Williams, who scored 13 points each. Guard Bruce Ellington, who hit the game-winning jumper during the regular season meeting, scored all 11 of his points in an inspired second half. Grant praised the Gamecocks' effort, especially in the second half.
"I give South Carolina a lot of credit," Grant said. "They came out in the second half, and played inspired. Our guys stayed together though. They kept their poise, played with heart and compassion, and got the win."
The Tide's victory has propelled them in to the second round of the tournament, where they are set to meet the fourth seeded Florida Gators today at 2:30 pm CT. The Gators, enter the game having lost three in a row, will undoubtedly be hungry for another victory over the Tide. The Gators defeated the Tide in the only regular season matchup of the teams this season. Despite being tied 26-26 at the half, Florida used a 16-0 run to start the second half to defeat Bama by a score of 61-52. Steele led the Tide in that game, in which Green was suspended, with 11 points.
Today's game will be broadcast by the SEC Network.